Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GILBERT, Rufus Henry, inventor, born in Guilford, New York, 26 January 1832; died in New York City, 10 July, 1885. He served an apprenticeship with a manufacturing firm in Corning, New York, studied medicine with Dr. Willard Parker, of New York City, and was graduated at the College of physicians and surgeons. At the beginning of the civil war he joined the Duryea zouaves as surgeon, and served through the war, performing at the battle of Big Bethel the first surgical operation that was made under fire during the struggle. He was afterward made medical director and superintendent of the United States army hospitals. His health becoming impaired, he gave up active practice and became assistant superintendent of the New Jersey central railroad. While thus occupied he was led to study the question of rapid transit in New York City. His attention was drawn to this subject on account of his experiences as a physician, and in view of the excessive mortality in overcrowded tenement-houses, His first notion was a pneumatic tube, and this was afterward elaborated into the present elevated railroad system. He devised seven different plans, and in 1872 obtained a charter at Albany for an overhead tubular pneumatic railway, under the title of the "Gilbert elevated railroad company," for which he was unable to obtain a franchise. The original elevated railway (1867) extended from Battery place through Greenwich Street and Ninth avenue to Thirtieth Street. The horse-car companies fought against the project with every weapon, looking on the company as competitors and intruders upon their vested privileges. The contest ended in favor of Dr. Gilbert. The road was begun, but the work soon stopped, and eighteen months of litigation followed. It was not until October, 1877, that the company were enabled to proceed. The Sixth avenue road was built, and Dr. Gilbert was at first a large holder of the stock. He was superseded in the management in 1878, and the name of the company was changed to the Metropolitan elevated railroad company. His stock passed out of his hands, extensive litigation followed, charges of fraud were made against his associates, and his death was hastened by anxiety and disappointment.
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